Multi-use "Swiss Army" Landscapes

“Juneberries are the berry for the Northwest. No farmer ought to fail to plant a patch. I have just distributed, free, wagonloads of plants from my early plantings, which were among my plums and in the way.” Jules Sandoz

What do we want from our landscapes? Many landscape designers have found that clients just want “something pretty to look at out the window.” But our goals could be much broader and more beneficial.
      If we want to really enjoy and use them, our landscapes should draw us outside with areas to play; plants we can eat; places to sit and gather; pathways to meander; areas for composting waste; trees and shrubs to shade and shelter buildings and outside areas; plants to attract birds, butterflies and other pollinator… the list goes on.
      It’s worthwhile to ask “Where’s the functionality, the food, the fun?” (landscape-focused WTF).
      In rural areas, trees are planted to screen winds and create milder microclimates. In urban areas, they’re more likely to be planted as visual screens and can be pruned down for narrow areas between sidewalks, patios and buildings. Either way, beyond conifers there are “marcescent” trees and shrubs like viburnums, American hornbeam and particular oak species that retain their foliage and provide more screening than most deciduous trees. Some of them also have edible fruits or foliage: Juneberry, hazelnut, leadplant (dried foliage makes a wonderful mild tea), persimmon, pawpaw, pecan, currant, herbs and many others.
      Native plants attract pollinators which can increase the production of vegetables and fruits and benefit the larger environment as well. The birds and butterflies they attract are a beautiful and interesting bonus. Flowers and branches can be brought indoors to freshen and beautify indoor spaces.
      Gardens are perfect places for recycling, reusing and repurposing since anything organic breaks down to provide nutrients for the plants that will follow. Rather than hauling away grass clippings, leaves, fallen twigs, branches and other garden waste, they can be used as mulch or dug into the soil and watered down for quick composting by worms and soil organisms.
      The more interesting and varied our landscapes are, the more likely to draw us outside, and particularly children. A diverse and non-manicured landscape offers lots of “loose parts” for building or decorating forts, tunnels and hiding places.
      So give some thought to how you might expand the usability and desirability of your landscape, and include those plants and plans as you prepare for the upcoming growing season.

Graham Herbst, Nebraska Forest Service